Thursday, December 23, 2010

Cookie Insanity

These.  Took.  All.  Day.

Seriously - the fun started around 9:15, and nine hours later I iced the very last chocolate mint mitten and laid it out to dry.

Iced cutout cookies take an eternity if you do everything from start to finish in one go.  Even with the efficiency measures I took (make one batch of cookie dough, stick it in the fridge, make the next batch and so forth until there were three, then roll them out and bake them in the same order), I didn't even get around to icing them until after 2 p.m.  And lemme tell ya - you know you've made a lot of cookies when you don't even want to sample them anymore.

For these cookies, I stuck with the recipe from the other day and made flavor adjustments with each.

Red cinnamon hats and mittens

For the cinnamon cookies, I simply added a teaspoon of cinnamon before the flour.  Most of these came out about 1/8" thick, which made them smaller and crisper than the cookies I usually make, but they also went farther than the chocolate mint cookies (below).  The biggest challenge with these cookies was the icing: it took about 70 drops of food coloring added to this icing recipe to turn it red!  I kept adding two drops at a time, then four drops at a time...until I reached 70, I was wondering if I'd have to settle for pink Santa hats. 

Almond snowflakes
This is loosely based on various recipes I found for Zimtsterne cookies, which are German almond star cookies enjoyed during the holidays.  At least one of the recipes I found called for ground almonds in place of flour, and all the recipes had rather complicated directions both for the baking and the icing (with meringue, not regular icing).  I decided not to use any of them because, with all the other cookies on my to-do list, I didn't think I had time for a learning curve.  The flavor adjustment I did make was to replace 1/2 cup of flour with ground almonds.  These were also pretty thin and waferlike, and the detail on the snowflake cutter made icing them a bit more of a challenge: I had to run a knife or the side of a fork around each of them to scrape off the excess icing so they wouldn't look misshapen.  For the icing, I replaced the vanilla with almond extract (this was also used on the white parts of the red Santa hats).  Delish!

Chocolate mint hats and mittens
In this cookie dough recipe, I used a teaspoon of peppermint extract instead of vanilla and replaced 1/2 cup of the flour with plain cocoa.  I also used 2/3 stick of butter, because that's all I had left, and I knew from previous experience making chocolate cookies that the 1:3 ratio of cocoa to flour would also soften the cookies.  I only rolled these until they were 1/4" thick, so I got just over two dozen, whereas the other recipes, rolled thinner, each yielded three dozen and change.  For the icing, I replaced the vanilla with peppermint extract and added two drops (I think) of green food coloring.

One discovery I was glad to make with the orange star cookies is that the icing does eventually dry, as stated in the directions - just give 'em a few hours.  So, I made a point of leaving these out until a little after 9:00 p.m., then packed them up and managed to put them away without disfiguring any.

Except for loving the flavor of the almond icing (which I knew I would), I'm going to reserve comments and let my relatives tell me what they think when I give them out this Friday at our extended family Christmas Eve gathering.  I still have plenty of ingredients, so hopefully I'll have time and energy to make more (simple) cookies before I hit the road!

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Curried Coconut Chicken Rendang

Today's cooking feat: my first coconut curry dish.
The photo may not be very flattering (the brown stuff is extra sauce heaped on top of the chicken), but it really did turn out well. 

This recipe is in the current issue of Food and Wine (and on their website here).  When I read it, I remembered that we had some chicken thighs in the freezer and half a can of coconut milk in the fridge from last Sunday.  Better to go ahead and use it, and use it I did.

I changed the recipe some, but not a lot.  The package of chicken in the freezer only weighed a pound, so I cut most of the ingredients on the list in half.  I wasn't about to go hunting for one stalk of lemon grass if lime juice was already on the list, and I don't have any allspice berries, shallots macadamia nuts, so those items were left out.  (I did use extra red onion and substitute some salted cashews for the macadamia nuts in case they made a difference in the texture - not sure if they did or not.) 

The rice in the picture is brown rice, not jasmine.  I think I've finally figured out the right proportion of water to rice (2:1) and length of time (40 minutes) so that I no longer have to check it every few minutes while the rest of the food is done.  It cooked in roughly the same length of time as the chicken, which worked out well.  And the chicken was good too!  Anyone who's curious to try it or a variation might also like the chicken just with the marinade, but with more marinade (it didn't seem to go very far when I brushed it onto the chicken).  It probably also would have been good with everything but the coconut milk and powder, or maybe with a substitution of tomato sauce.

That's all for tonight.   Enjoy what remains of the weekend!

More Trial and Error with Cookies

Yesterday was cold and rainy, so I chickened out of an 8-mile group run and stayed inside to make more cookies.

This was a bit of an odyssey, since I've never really made cookies with visual appeal in mind.  I mean, it's the holidays, and if it looks like a cookie, people are gonna eat it, right?

I should have been able to predict the result, since I'm not artistically inclined and, until yesterday, had never cut out or decorated a cookie before in my life.  Sure, I can mix the ingredients together, throw them in the oven and take them out when the timer goes off, but decorating's another story.

The recipe for the cookies themselves worked out well, and I'll probably use it again or something very much like it, whether I decide to ice them again or not.  The orange extract was something I picked up by mistake a couple of weeks ago but still wanted to use, so it went into the cookie dough in place of vanilla.

Orange star cookies
1 stick butter, cubed
2/3 cup of sugar
1 tsp baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tbsp soy flour mixed with 2 tbsp water (egg substitute)
1 tsp orange extract
5 tbsp milk
2 cups flour

This followed the usual cookie drill - cream the butter and sugar, add the rest except for the flour and combine, then add the flour about 1/2 cup at a time.  Roll into a cylinder, wrap in plastic wrap, then into the fridge for at least an hour. 

When I casually mentioned to Steve a couple of weeks back that I might try my hand at decorated cutout cookies this holiday season, he went out and bought a couple of sets of cookie cutters along with the usual stash of groceries.  One set consists of a snowflake, mitten and cap, and the other has different-sized stars.  I decided to start with one shape only, so I could at least decorate them all the same, so I went with the second-smallest star.

The Country Cook, also a friend from back home (hey Brandie!), recently advised using wax paper for rolling out cookie dough.  This worked out well, especially since I discovered just as it was time to get to work that we don't have a rolling pin in the house and I was going to have to improvise with an iced tea glass. 

The cutting out and baking (350 degrees, 10 minutes) were easy enough.

Then it came time to ice these bad boys.

I used this recipe for the icing but had to change it up a little.  The wet ingredients weren't enough for the powdered sugar, so I added one teaspoon each of milk and corn syrup (regular, not light).  I used orange extract in place of the vanilla.  The orange color was achieved with one drop of red food coloring and two of yellow.

Holy orange, Batman!  Steve and I both sampled it and were reminded of a mandarin orange candy from childhood.  What a difference the extract made - so glad I used it instead of orange juice!

In terms of decorating, I figured I'd try to emulate the cookies pictured at the link for the icing recipe, except that I had the ill-advised idea of also icing the cookies in the side.  So I made the icing recipe all over but used lemon juice (3 teaspoons) in place of the milk, no vanilla or extract and a couple of drops of yellow food coloring.  Another winner in terms of the taste, but...

I guess I was expecting the icing to dry a little harder, but these suckers were messy to ice, even with one of those piping things, and messy to handle after they'd had a while to sit and dry out on the parchment paper.  Also, I ran out of the lemon icing before I was done, so some of these only have the orange icing.

Oh, well.  It was still a nice way to spend a cold, drizzly Saturday, and my hungry co-workers will be getting another surprise on Monday.

Have a nice Sunday and enjoy the sunshine!

Friday, December 17, 2010

Spinach and Artichoke Pasta with White Beans

I'd been thinking about making something like this since before my last cold.  Whenever I see spinach and artichoke dip on a restaurant or bar menu, I think, "Mmm, spinach.  Mmm, artichoke hearts.  Cream cheese, mayo, sour cream...blech."  If they just put the spinach, artichokes and some melted Parmesan on some chips and put that in the oven for 10 minutes, I'd be a much bigger fan of the dip (even though it wouldn't really be a dip anymore).  And since we always have a bag of spinach in the fridge and a can or two of artichoke hearts in the cupboard, I finally took it upon myself to give this dish a whirl after a happy little 3-mile run through the neighborhood. 

I was also in the mood for something like a cassoulet, hence the Great Northern beans.

2 tbsp Earth Balance
2 tbsp flour
2 cups milk (2%)
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp pepper
1/4 tsp nutmeg
8 oz. orzo pasta
6 oz. fresh spinach, rinsed and chopped
1 can artichoke hearts, drained (about 7 artichoke hearts)
1 can (15 oz.) Great Northern Beans, drained
1 cup freshly grated or shredded Parmesan cheese

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

In a small saucepan, heat Earth Balance over medium-low heat until melted.  Stir in flour slowly, smoothing out any lumps.  Once it is all combined, gradually stir in the milk until incorporated.  Add salt, pepper and nutmeg.  Simmer, stirring often (don't let it burn on the bottom of the pan) until thickened, about 20 minutes.  Stir in 1/2 cup of Parmesan and stir until melted.

While the sauce is cooking down, cook the orzo according to package directions (about 9 minutes), drain and set aside (covered).

While the sauce and orzo are doing their thing, rinse and chop the spinach, drain and chop the artichoke hearts and drain the can of beans.

When the sauce and orzo are ready, combine them in the pot containing the orzo.  Add the spinach, artichoke hearts and beans and stir well.

Grease a breadloaf-sized baking dish (or use a nonstick pan) and spoon the mixture into the dish.  Top with the remaining Parmesan cheese and bake for 30 minutes.  Let stand 10-15 minutes before serving.

Serves 4

This turned out really well, but I may experiment with it in the future to see if it could be made even better.  I'm wondering if adding salt and pepper to the spinach and wilting it first would have added to the flavor.  Another suggestion that Steve had was to use white wine.  Hmm...we shall see...

Everyone have a great weekend, and I look forward to seeing some of you at Strictly Running in the morning!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Wicked Spicy Chicken and White Bean Soup

I went running at Riverfront Park after work - 39 degrees with a breeze when I started, and it cooled down after the sun set.  Thankfully, I had my iPod to keep me company for 6 miles.

Here's what I listened to, in order.  Can you tell I had it set to Shuffle?

Enuff Z'Nuff "Fly High Michelle"
Erykah Badu "On and On"
John Mellencamp "Check It Out"
Stevie Wonder "Living for the City"
Beastie Boys "Intergalactic"
ELO "Strange Magic"
MC Solar "Le Nouveau Western"
O Brother, Where Art Thou "Man of Constant Sorrow"
Naughty By Nature "Hip Hop Hooray"
Outkast "Hey Ya"
Peter Gabriel "Sledgehammer"

I really needed those last couple of songs to be as fast as they were - it was cold!

A much-needed shower warmed me back up as soon as I got home, as did the soup that took care of the last two bell peppers from this year's garden, half a Piggly Wiggly chicken, half a bunch of cilantro and a serrano pepper.  This is loosely based on Paula Deen's White Bean Chili, but I didn't feel like dirtying the blender to thicken it up if I could do this in two pots (one for the bouillon, one for the rest) and be done with it.

Wicked Spicy Chicken and White Bean Soup
2 tbsp canola oil
2 green bell peppers, diced
1 serrano pepper (seeds and all), diced
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp ground oregano
1/2 tsp salt
4 cups chicken broth
1 (15 oz.) can Great Northern beans, drained
Chicken thigh meat, deboned and diced
1/2 bunch cilantro, coarsely chopped

Heat oil in pot over medium heat.  Add next six ingredients, stir well and saute for 3-5 minutes.  Add remaining ingredients, cover and reduce heat to medium-low.  Simmer until soup is bubbly, about 15 minutes.

For those who aren't familiar, serranos are a little bit hotter than jalapenos.  This is the wicked hot part of this soup.  In fact, Steve said as he was eating it that it could be served in a Thai restaurant.  If your heat breaks down this winter, make this soup - it'll warm you up!  Normally I have seconds when soup's for dinner, but one bowl was all I could take.  I'll have to take some bread or something with the soup for lunch tomorrow.

Stay warm everybody!

First cookies of the holiday season

I decided to do a little baking mid-afternoon yesterday, since I had the day off from work and today's the day of the big holiday lunch at work.  The day of the gathering is also a nice festive day for bringing in other goodies from home for nearby co-workers to enjoy.  And I never do baked goods at any other time of the year, so I try to make the most of it.  This year's first effort involved what should have been dulce de leche thumbprint cookies.

I don't know...maybe this blogger's Kitchen Aid is able to perform miracles that my lowly hand-held mixer can't, but the first five ingredients were way too crumbly to qualify as cookie dough once they were all "combined."  As a food allergy sufferer, I love the idea of an eggless cookie, but I couldn't help thinking that an egg or two would have softened the rest to where the flour would actually blend like it was supposed to.  With this recipe, nothing doing.  I ended up adding (in place of eggs) two tablespoons of soy flour mixed with two tablespoons of water.  When that didn't do the trick, I added four tablespoons (two at a time) of milk.  With that, I had actual cookie dough.

I also didn't leave them in for 20 minutes because it seemed like I would have been asking for burnt cookies.  15 minutes was plenty for each tray.  And the thumbprints added before putting the cookies in the oven did not come back as the cookies cooled.  In fact, I tried to re-thumbprint them when the cookies were most of the way cool and actually felt them springing back.  It wasn't the end of the world - you can still top cookies with whatever you wanted to use as thumbprint filling.  In this case, it was just the dulce de leche (fancy talk for caramel if you don't speak Spanish) over about half a teaspoon of chopped walnuts.  The walnuts just seemed more Christmassy than the sea salt.  And seriously, people - designer salt?

As of this post I have no idea how the cookies will be received at work, although if at least one co-worker skipped breakfast, I'm sure they'll all be gone by lunch.  I did taste one of the less attractive ones before adding the dulce de leche, and they're nice and soft.

Happy Wednesday!

Monday, December 13, 2010

Sweet potato and spinach praram

This post is short and sweet because it concerns a recipe I actually made without tweaks.  Said recipe was previously posted by my new favorite food blogger, the BrokeAss Gourmet.  I just happened to have a couple of sweet potatoes that didn't get used over Thanksgiving, and between this, the steady supply of fresh spinach in our house and the availability of at least half the other ingredients, I only had to go out and buy 6 or 7 things in order to make it. 

Not exactly what I'd call "brokeass" - in leaner, hungrier times, when my weekly grocery budget was $25, I wouldn't have spent $13 on groceries for 2-3 meals worth of food.  And I don't know where BrokeAss shops, but I paid $3 for several items that were priced at $2, and I don't think I've ever seen a 6 oz. can of coconut milk.  That would be my preference, too, since every can I get is 13-14 ounces and any recipe I use typically only needs 6-8 ounces.  Oh, well.  At least there were enough basic ingredients left over tonight that I'll be able to make this again within a week.  That's the brokeass life as I know it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Mattar paneer

Second cooking experience with the new stovetop.  I was so glad to finally get around to this!  It was also good to use up the paneer, which I was tired of looking at in the cheese drawer in the fridge.

I used this recipe with a few adjustments.  The yogurt seemed like overkill (didn't have any anyway).  I used cayenne pepper instead of the green chilies I didn't have and canola oil in place of the ghee I never buy.  I didn't have any cilantro ("chopped coriander leaves") so I skipped that, although this is one recipe where it really would have added to the flavor.  Also, I couldn't see using garam masala as a garnish, so I just stirred it in before covering it and letting it simmer.

Any vegans out there could just as easily use cubed tofu instead of the paneer in this and any other paneer recipe.  I kinda wish I had myself, since I'm coming down with something and try to avoid dairy products when I have a cold.  Oh, well.  Some of the soup from Saturday is still in the fridge; hopefully it will get me through the next day or so...

Saturday, December 4, 2010

The Occasional Vegetarian Gets a New Oven

So, the self-cleaning oven with flat-top range that Steve found on sale on Home Depot's website last week arrived while I was at work Friday morning.  Thankfully, Steve was here to let them in and make sure they leveled it right.

Check it out - it even has that new oven smell!

So guess what I did to christen it, even though I still had three turkey and stuffing leftover meals in the freezer?

Chickpea Soondal and Kale Pitas

The chickpea soondal recipe is in Healthy South Indian Cooking, and I reheated the last of the kale from the other night to fill out the pitas with some greenery.  I've only made the soondal once or twice before (in the four years I've had this cookbook) and usually served it with rice and one other veggie side dish, but this was the quickest and easiest thing to whip up, since nothing needed to be chopped for it and the kale and pita were there and ready to go.

1 can chickpeas
1 tbsp canola or corn oil
1 dried red chili pepper
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dal
1/2 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp chutney powder
1 tsp minced fresh ginger root (I used ginger paste from the Indian grocery store)
1/4 cup powdered unsweetened coconut (also from the Indian grocery store, along with all the spices)

Drain the chickpeas, rinse and set aside.

Heat the oil in a saucepan or skillet over medium heat.  When oil is hot, but not smoking, stir in red chili pepper, black mustard seeds and urad dal.  Fry until mustard seeds burst (listen for popping sound) and urad dal is golden.  (The cookbook says to cover the pot at this point, but I often forget to check things while I'm chopping and end up burning the urad dal and whatever else is in there.  Better to leave it uncovered where I can see that the urad dal are browning.)

Immediately add chickpeas, turmeric, salt and chutney powder and mix well.  Add ginger and cook for another minute or two.

Add coconut and stir.  Remove from heat and serve.

The kale went in the microwave for 1 minute and 15 seconds, sliced the pita in half and then filled the pita pockets in layers starting with the soondal, since it was dryer and would help retain any liquid from the kale.

As you can see, I was so hungry by the time it was ready (oven/range photos taken at 1:03, before I started cooking) I almost forget to take the picture.

I also made this on the slow-cooker, so I'd have it when I got home from yoga.  The yoga didn't happen and this took longer than I expected, but it still made a nice, warm lunch today:

North African-Inspired Stew

They used to make this one soup sometimes at Smith, called North African Vegetable Stew, that had chickpeas, potatoes, zucchini, carrots, onions and a ton of spices.  Well, I had the chickpeas, onions and carrots, but I had to substitute sweet potatoes for regular potatoes and frozen yellow squash for the zucchini.  I was hell-bent on clearing out the cupboards and some of the produce that didn't become part of Thanksgiving dinner, so although I would have preferred it the usual way, this at least cleared out some ingredients with nothing better to do and, I hope, improved my chi a bit.

2 tbsp olive oil
2 onions, diced

2 cans chickpeas, drained
4 small sweet potatoes, peeled and cubed
2 carrots, peeled, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 bag (8 oz?) frozen yellow squash
2 tsp turmeric
1 tsp cumin
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1.5 tsp salt
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley

Saute the onions in olive oil until translucent.  Add to the crock pot with the remaining ingredients and 8 cups of water.  Cover and simmer on low for 12 hours.

I enjoyed a bowl of this while Steve was outside raking pine straw, and he came in later and enjoyed some too.  Since he picked up some more spinach at Food Lion today, I'm thinking that at least one near-future lunch or dinner will be of the soup-and-salad variety.

Dinner will probably be out of the town tonight.  More later about fun with my new appliance.  Thanks, as always, for reading, and "Go Gamecocks!"

Friday, December 3, 2010

After Thanksgiving

As you can imagine from reading my previous post, I had tons of leftovers after Thanksgiving. So, I didn't cook for almost a week except for making a pot of turkey noodle soup (Steve's suggestion). This was more work than it sounds like.

It actually started on Thursday, with Steve expertly removing most of the flesh from the carcass with the handy dandy electric carving knife.

Next, I set the carcass in the new big crock pot (go office freecycle table!) with 8 cups of water and simmered it on low for about a day and a half - Thursday evening to Saturday lunch.

Obviously, there was no need to cook on Friday - leftovers out the proverbial wazoo.

Saturday I chopped up 3-4 cups of the remaining dark meat and added that to a soup pot already containing two sauteed carrots, one sauteed onion and some garlic. Then I strained the contents of the crock pot (with a great big mesh splatter guard) into the soup pot and added orzo pasta and a little salt and pepper. A few minutes before serving, I stirred in about half a cup of chopped fresh parsley from the backyard.

This was really tasty, but I wonder now if I should have skimmed off the fat from the soup, because the leftovers were kinda gelatinous and weird. With the first leftover helping, I added water because it appeared to need it. Fail - way too thin. The next couple of times I reheated it, I put it in the microwave just like it was and let the fat melt down on its own. It really warmed us up!

Since then, all I've really done is cook up the remaining bunch of kale and some lentils. Thursday night's dinner was a replay of the tuna bacon spinach pasta that used up another big bag of fresh spinach. We had to substitute capicola because Publix hasn't had the pancetta in a while; apparently, their supplier hasn't either. Maybe I'll have to start walking across the parking lot to the Fresh Market?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Thanksgiving Throwdown

I know I'm far from the only person who cooked yesterday and the day before, but for me, Thanksgiving is the culinary holiday to end all, and I want to share with everyone what I made!

I don't have anyone to cook for besides Steve, and the holiday always sneaks up before I'm ready to even think about entertaining, so I usually don't.  Nevertheless, I've been cooking a real Thanksgiving dinner every year since I moved into my house - mainly because I wanted to see if I could do it, and partly so that I'll have some experience with it should I ever find myself contributing food to extended family gatherings during the holidays (a task that, for now, mostly falls to my dear Aunt Kaye in Chesapeake, VA).  For years I worried that I'd find myself married and having to cook for in-laws from hell without ever having made a turkey or pork tenderloin before, undercooking the meat and sending everyone to the emergency room with food poisoning.  So, I've rehearsed for such an occasion four years in a row now and (to my knowledge) not made anyone sick.

So here's how I spent my day yesterday!

Turkey with herbs and citrus
This is the turkey recipe I've followed each year.  For the most part, this was the same as Giada's recipe.  The main differences are that I doubled the "butter" and olive oil and used Earth Balance instead of butter for the butter-olive oil-herb mixture for the skin.  Since Earth Balance is pretty salty, I skipped salt here.  Also, I didn't have any herbes de Provence on hand, so instead I used a dried Italian herb mix consisting of oregano, rosemary, basil, marjoram and sage.  Close enough for rock 'n roll.  I stuffed the cavity with the orange, lemon, onion and herbs and rubbed the butter-oil-herb mixture on the skin the day before and left it in the fridge overnight.  Where the recipe says to add broth and herbs and throw it back in for 40 minutes, I went up to an hour for peace of mind (the cook time in this recipe has never seemed quite long enough for a 15-pound bird, so I leave it a little longer at each step) and because I had sweet potatoes and stuffing in the oven at the same time.  I didn't use low-sodium chicken broth as recommended, so where it says to add one final cup of broth to the roasting pan, I just added water.  This can get really salty if you're not using the low-salt and salt-free items indicated.  When it was finally ready to come out of the oven, I made the gravy pretty much the same as in the recipe, except that where it says to spoon off the fat from the strained pan juices and then cook some butter and flour, I spooned off the fat (green in color from the olive oil), put that in a saucepan and whisked in some flour, followed by the rest of the pan juices and additional chicken broth.  The greenish-brown color of the roux changed to a normal light-brown gravy color as soon as I added the de-fatted pan juices and broth.  This also needed no additional salt, so when it was ready to serve I just added pepper.  Num-num!

Carrot and fennel stuffing
I decided this year that I'd had enough of Emeril's cornbread and andouille dressing recipe - it's a good meal all by itself (hot Italian turkey sausage is a good substitute for the andouille), but very complicated when you're working on other dishes.  Instead, I went hunting for simpler recipes and found this one, which gave me an excuse to go to the store and pick up some fennel.  I did use carrots but skipped the apricots because a) I wasn't dying to have them, and b) Wal-Mart didn't have any when I went looking for them last weekend.  No biggie - it was good with all the other veggies.  The biggest difference between this recipe and what I actually made, besides the absence of apricots, is that I didn't use a baguette.  I happened to have a loaf of Pepperidge Farm buttermilk bread in the freezer, so I toasted and cubed the slices over the weekend and then stored them at room temperature until I was ready to make the stuffing.  Not sure how many cups that was, but it was 14 slices and, with the rest, fit into a 9" x 13" casserole dish.  I had to go up to 5 cups of broth because the larger amount of bread didn't seem to be soaking it up, and then I left it in the oven about an extra 20 minutes because it seemed a little soupy after the first 20 minutes.  (So maybe I didn't need the extra broth?)  I was bummed that it appeared to have burned when I took it out of the oven, but when I tasted it, it didn't seem burnt so much as caramelized.  Maybe the buttermilk in the bread had something to do with it?

Sauteed kale with radishes
I bought a bunch of radishes with tops last week on a whim - and then didn't do anything with them.  It occurred to me that Thanksgiving would be just as good an occasion as any to use them, but in what?  I'd only ever used them to spice up greens before.  Steve doesn't really like any greens other than kale and fresh spinach.  Since we've been eating a lot of the latter recently, I decided to go for the kale.  The idea was to have a healthy alternative to creamed spinach or greens cooked with salted meat.  This is by far the easiest side dish I made yesterday, although the baked sweet potatoes with streusel (below) were a close second. 

2 tbsp Earth Balance
1 bunch radishes (about 6-8 radishes), halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
2 cloves garlic
1 bunch kale, chopped and rinsed in several changes of water
1 tsp salt
1 tsp pepper

In a large enough pot to hold all the fresh kale, heat Earth Balance over medium heat.  Add radishes and cook until softened, about 3-5 minutes.  Add garlic, stir and cook another 2 minutes.  Add kale, salt and pepper and stir well to coat with Earth Balance and mix with radishes and garlic.  Cover, lower heat to medium-low and cook until kale is wilted, about 10 minutes.

The nice thing about this dish is that, although very simple, it comes out tasting like you put more effort into it than you did.  Steve asked what the secret ingredient was and seemed surprised when I gave him the rundown.  People who like greens with vinegar can have their vinegar, but I've often found that salt (in moderation, of course) is just as easy a way to take the edge off of fresh greens.

Sweet potatoes with walnut streusel
For the most part I followed Tyler Florence's recipe.  However, since it was just us, I only put two large sweet potatoes in the oven.  For the streusel, I only used 1/4 cup of butter, brown sugar and flour and substituted chopped walnuts because Steve doesn't like pecans. 

I had some misgivings about doing this instead of a sweet potato souffle because you don't always know how good the sweet potatoes are until they come out of the oven.  Luckily - or maybe because they were locally grown? - the little piece I pinched off after taking them out of the oven was sweet enough not to need mixing with brown sugar or cinnamon. 

This brings us to dessert, which we did get to share with an evening guest:

Citrus pound cake with cranberry syrup
Just like the recipe says.  This is probably the first cake I've ever made without baking powder or soda, but by following the directions exactly, it came out.  I made the pound cake first because I wanted it to be room temperature when served, and the heat requirement was different than for everything else on the menu.  My friend Usa (who ran the NYC Marathon this year and finished in 3:50) came over in the evening for dessert and wine.  I made the cranberry syrup and served it up with the cake when she got here, and we talked about German restaurant experiences in the Columbia area (she's from Germany) and, of course, the marathon.  This rare visitation had me thinking that I really should plan better so that I can enjoy holidays like this to the fullest.  Steve's always good company, but it's still nice to have guests every once in a while.  Next year?

One last thing about the food: after Usa left and I started clearing away the dishes used to make the syrup, I discovered that the strained cranberries make a delicious homemade cranberry sauce!

So...having proven several times over that I can indeed make an edible turkey, I'm thinking that next year I'll scale back and make something that only calls for the turkey breast.  More on that next year.

Stay tuned to see what I do with all these leftovers through the weekend.  Hope everyone is enjoying their Thanksgiving weekend and not being trampled underfoot by Black Friday shoppers!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Cleaning out the Fridge for Turkey Day

I took ill last weekend and didn't do much cooking for a few days.  So, when I noticed that some zucchini and an onion in the fridge were both looking like they'd seen better days, I decided to make a batch of soup to aid my recovery.

The bowl pictured here is reheated leftovers that I photographed after I started to dig in.  Soups are so often better the next day!

2 tbsp olive oil
2 zucchini, quartered lengthwise and thinly sliced
2 cloves chopped garlic
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cans (14.5 oz each) chicken broth
1 can (8 oz.) tomato sauce
1 can (15 oz.) diced tomatoes
1 can chick peas, drained
1 can navy beans, drained
2 tsp dried Italian herbs
salt and pepper to taste

Heat the olive oil in a 2- or 4-quart saucepan.  Add zucchini and garlic and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add onion and cook until all vegetables are translucent, another 3 to 5 minutes.  Add chicken broth, diced tomatoes and tomato sauce and bring to a boil.  Reduce to a simmer.  Add chick peas, navy beans and herbs, stir well and cover.  Simmer, stirring occasionally, until soup is bubbly, about 20-25 minutes.  Add salt and pepper before serving.

Several days last week I went through some fresh spinach and pita bread by making spinach and feta pitas for lunch.  Just when I thought I'd saved the spinach on hand from spoiling, Steve surprised me with another bag of spinach.  As it turned out, a container of ricotta cheese that Steve had picked up in case we needed to make an emergency lasagna was also nearing its expiration date.  So guess what I did with my Friday afternoon off from work?

Pretty much the same thing as the zucchini lasagna I last made over the summer, substituting about 8 cups of chopped fresh spinach for the zucchini and yellow squash.  I discovered that it's not a bad idea to nuke the spinach for a minute or two and then drain off the liquid so that it doesn't cook out while the whole thing's in the oven.  Luckily, or because I made it a couple of hours ahead of time, it held together just fine when I cut into it for dinner.  Steve had some for lunch yesterday and enjoyed it too.

It's the home stretch before our 4th annual Thanksgiving at home.  The turkey's thawing in the fridge, and I can't wait to pull it off again!

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Zucchini and kidney beans with brown rice

I keep thinking the next dish I make will be mattar paneer, and it keeps not happening.  Not because I don't want any, but because I've felt too zapped to cook at all these last couple of nights.  (Well, except the stuffed peppers, but that was pretty quick and easy.)  Tonight I made myself cook just so I'd have leftovers for lunch tomorrow, but I went for something much simpler. 

I asked Steve last week to curtail his shopping for fresh or frozen produce so as to make room in the freezer for a Thanksgiving turkey (the idea being that we'll make a dent in our freezer stores as soon as the fresh stuff's all gone).  For the most part he's honored my request, but a bag of fresh spinach and a wrapped package of 3 zucchini did turn up the other day (along with a bag of apples that I asked him to pick up).  That seemed as good a reason to make something simple that would take care of a zucchini.

1 cup Yoga Organics brown rice, rinsed
2 tbsp canola oil
1 whole zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 tsp chopped garlic
1 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp ground oregano
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 can dark red kidney beans, drained

Bring 13 oz. of salted water to a boil.  Add rice, stir well, cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook until all water is absorbed, about 25-30 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat canola oil in a 2-quart saucepan over medium heat.  Add zucchini, garlic, salt, cumin, oregano and cayenne and stir well.  Cook for about 5 minutes or until zucchini has begun to soften.  Add beans, stir well and cook until zucchini is fully cooked and beans are heated.

This also turned out well, but I have to admit to being brown rice-retarded.  I know it's better for you, but I never set the timer for as long as it needs and always have to check it and then give it another 5 minutes.  White rice is SO much more reliable and makes these dishes much quicker and easier.  Oh, well - one day I'll get the hang of it.  And I got what I wanted - leftovers for tomorrow!

Hope everyone out there is doing well on what turned out to be a nice, warm Veteran's Day!

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Shrimp 'n Grits Stuffed Peppers

Yep, that's right - just when you thought neither of those things could get any better, I rolled 'em into one.  This recipe took care of the last of this year's bumper crop of bell peppers; we had exactly one green and one red pepper remaining the fridge, so they both got cut in half and stuffed because we had them and because I wanted to make something incredibly simple while waiting for last night's Daily Show to come on.

The recipe was very off the cuff but went about like this:

2 cups salted water
1/2 cup yellow grits
2 tbsp Earth Balance
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
30-35 shrimp (approx. 7-8 per stuffed pepper), peeled and deveined
1/4 tbsp cayenne pepper

Preheat oven to 400 degrees.

Bring water to a boil; reduce to medium, add 1 tbsp Earth Balance,and stir in grits once the Earth Balance has melted.  Stir regularly until grits thicken, then stir in grated Parmesan.  Turn off heat.

Meanwhile, heat remaining Earth Balance in another saucepan over medium heat and add shrimp.  Add cayenne pepper and cook until shrimp are pink.  Turn off heat.

Cut peppers in half and remove insides and seeds.  Fill pepper halves over the top with grits, top with shrimp and spoon any remaining pan juices over shrimp.

Place on a foil-lined baking pan, cover shrimp with foil and bake for 20-25 minutes.  Turn off heat, uncover shrimp and leave in the oven for another 3-5 minutes.  Remove from oven, sprinkle paprika over shrimp and serve.

This turned out pretty well, but I think next time I'll mix most of the shrimp into the grits, stick that in the oven and then garnish them with some more shrimp cooked separately as above.  Getting these off the pan and onto plates was tricky because the shrimp didn't want to stay in place.  Plus it might make the grits a little more flavorful; the taste of the cheese seemed to go away in the oven, as often happens with baked dishes unless the seasoning is adjusted.

However anything I cook turns out, I'm just glad for moments when I have time to breathe, cook and blog about it before I collapse on the sofa and fall asleep during Jeopardy.  Back soon with more...

Sunday, November 7, 2010

More Indian Goodness

Once again, the time has gotten away from me.  Luckily, I've managed to photograph my recent culinary projects and can recount, at least in brief, the experiences.

Palak paneer...a day later would have been too late for this spinach.  As it was, I had to incorporate some frozen spinach in order to attain the volume of one pound of fresh spinach.  I went by this recipe but simplified by just cooking the fresh spinach on the back burner for a few minutes, thawing the frozen in the microwave and putting all of that, plus the sauteed onion and aromatics, in the blender.  For those who aren't familiar, "palak" means spinach in some major Indian language and "paneer" is a type of Indian cheese.  I've had this and mattar paneer (green peas with paneer) in Indian restaurants before, but actually cooking with paneer was a first.  Easily the most homemade-looking cheese I've ever bought, and any country denizen from Wisconsin or Europe would find that this cheese tastes extremely young.  Which might help explain why you don't see it in regular grocery stores.  The label on the package says "great tasting," but I found myself disagreeing until after I lightly pan-fried the cubes per the recipe instructions.  Pan-frying seemed to take the edge off and improve the texture so that it almost tasted like fried mozzarella.  I also used at least a teaspoon each of the garlic and minced ginger instead of the tiny amount that this recipe calls for.  I really enjoyed this, and Steve did too.  There might be a post titled "Mattar Paneer" in the very near future, if only to use up some more of this cheese before I lose interest in dishes that call for it.

 This here was adapted from a sambhar recipe in Healthy South Indian Cooking.  It basically called for yellow split peas, sauteed aromatics (mustard seeds, urad dal, etc.), onion, tomato, potatoes, turmeric and other curry-like spices, and ground aromatics (powdered coconut, dried red chiles, cumin and coriander seeds) added at the very end.  I happened to still have some cubed sweet potato to use up, so I went with that instead and am glad I did.  The slight sweetness of the sweet potatoes complimented the coconut better than regular potatoes would have, and the contrast with the salt and spices was more interesting than if regular potatoes had simply absorbed those flavors and not contributed anything but starch.  This got eaten pretty quickly, which was good because I ended up spending a couple of days at a conference in Myrtle Beach and didn't want to leave a bunch of food behind.

My next post will be along shortly - I cooked again tonight, but not Indian, so tonight's dinner will get its own post.  

Congratulations to all my friends who ran the NYC Marathon this morning (Usa, Teo, etc.) and to the top finishers - three ladies who had never run NYC before, and two who had never even run a marathon before - go Shalane Flanagan (USA, 2nd place) and Mary Katamy (Kenya, 3rd place)!  And congrats to rescued Chilean miner Edison Pena, who also ran his very first marathon this morning despite a knee injury that he sustained when the mine collapsed - amazing!

And lastly, I hope everyone's adjusting all right to the sudden cold - needless to say, I probably won't be posting a lot of salads or cold dishes for a while.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Making Up for Lost Time

Well, after a brief period of being too busy to make anything but the quickest and most familiar dishes, I had a quiet weekend during which to make some slightly more involved meals.  I'll have to give an abbreviated version of each recipe because there are several - and, once again, not enough time.

After taking a late-afternoon nap that caused me to miss Friday night yin-and-flow yoga, I figured that an easy way to end the day feeling like I'd done something would be to make a slightly amped-up chicken noodle soup.  I love chicken noodle soup in the fall, cold or no cold, but I always like to give it a little extra something, like the City CafĂ© did when I worked there.  I always use small pasta and some kind of greenery - scallions this time, because I had them and because I didn't want to have to go outside and snip parsley in the dark once the sun had set.  Plus Steve had bought another rotisserie chicken from the Pig, and I had bought a few carrots earlier in the week and harvested a couple of red bell peppers.  The soup pictured here used all of the above ingredients (dark meat only from the chicken) plus orzo pasta and chicken broth, simmered for half an hour, and about half a tablespoon of lemon juice (on mine, not Steve's) added just before serving.  This actually bears a closer resemblance to the Greek chicken and lemon soup that I had once at Zorba's in Irmo.

Saturday I had stuff to do around the house and Steve had a friend with a computer that needed fixing, so while he was out I got started on the chicken-broccoli-cheddar bake and sweet potato rice with scallions pictured here.  This cheddar bake took care of the remaining Piggly Wiggly chicken (all the white meat) plus about 3/4 pound of Wal-Mart cheese that neither of us really liked enough to snack on.  I had planned on using frozen broccoli (we've got at least 3 bags in the freezer), but since Steve picked up a couple of fresh heads of broccoli on Friday, I just chopped that, steamed it in the microwave and added it to the mix once it was ready.  The chicken was just pulled off the carcass and coarsely chopped, and the cheese sauce used about half the cubed cheese, plus 2 tablespoons of Smart Balance, 2 tablespoons of flour, 12 ounces of milk and a little bit of pepper and nutmeg.  Once that had all blended, I mixed in the remaining cubed cheese (not cooking it all on the stove makes for a cheesier end result) plus the chicken and broccoli, poured it into a non-stick bread loaf pan (my go-to vessel for mini-casseroles) and into the oven it went, 375 degrees for about an hour.

The brown rice with sweet potatoes was more straightforward: while the rice was cooking (and the bake was in the oven), I peeled, diced and pan-fried one large sweet potato in Smart Balance with about 1/4 teaspoon of cinnamon and a dash of nutmeg.  I added about 1/4 of water here and there because it kept wanting to stick to the bottom of the pan as it caramelized.  At the very end, I added the scallions, then stirred all of it into the rice once it was done.

Sunday I made lentil moussaka because Steve had picked up a couple of eggplants and I really wanted to make an eggplant moussaka after coming up with endless uses for zucchini all summer.  And I do like zucchini, but you know when you've had too much of a good thing.  The lentil moussaka was pretty much the same as the one I made in June, except that I put it in the oven for about 50 minutes at 400 degrees so that the eggplant would cook through.  Borderline burnt on top (I should probably train myself to use breadcrumbs for visual appeal)...

...but delish the whole way through.  Still have leftovers.  I think I'll have some now!

While the foods I prepared over the weekend made a decent-sized dent in my produce supply, it kept replacing itself at roughly the same rate.  I still have a sweet potato, an eggplant, a few carrots, a bag of fresh spinach and one or two other things.  What to make this week?...

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Lemon rice with cucumber and tomato salad

Still had a bunch of stuff in the fridge after making the lentil soup the other night, so Indian seemed like the easiest way to use it up.  I nearly went with Greek again but figured I should make something different for variety.  Both of these recipes are in Healthy South Indian Cooking by Vaivaran and Marquardt, but I had to make some adjustments to their recipes based on what I had (e.g. no cilantro).  It went about like this:

Lemon rice:
2 cups water
1/2 cup dry yellow split peas
1 cup water
2/3 cup jasmine rice
1/4 cup lemon juice
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp turmeric
2 tbsp canola oil
4-6 curry leaves
1 tsp black mustard seeds
1 tsp urad dal
1 tsp chutney powder

Bring two cups of water to a boil.  Add yellow split peas, stir, cover and simmer on medium heat until tender, about 20-25 minutes.  Drain and set aside.

Next, bring 1 cup of water to a boil in a separate pot and add rice.  Cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook on medium-low heat for 12-15 minutes or until all water has been absorbed.  Fluff with fork and set aside.

In a small bowl, combine lemon juice, salt and turmeric and set aside.

A few minutes before the yellow split peas finish cooking, heat oil in another small pot over medium heat.  As soon as it is heated, add curry leaves, mustard seeds and urad dal.  Cover loosely and cook until mustard seeds begin to pop and urad dal turns brown. 

Add the drained yellow split peas to the aromatics, stir well and cook for another 2-3 minutes.  Add the lemon juice mixture and chutney powder and stir well.  Add the rice, stir and remove from heat.

After making the lemon juice mixture and sticking that in the fridge, I still had a few minutes of down time from the rice, during which I made the accompaniment.

Cucumber and tomato salad:
Half of one large tomato, diced
Half of one large cucumber, peeled, seeded and finely chopped
1 cup plain low-fat yogurt
1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp pepper
1 green onion, chopped

Combine all ingredients except the green onion in a mixing bowl.  When ready to serve, garnish with chopped green onion.

I served Steve with the items side-by-side and stacked mine.  As far as I can tell, it turned out well both ways.  And Steve was pretty hungry by the time it hit the table, so I didn't have to package a ton of leftovers.  This was pretty much how I ate all summer in 2006, when I started training for my first half- and full marathon.  Would that I could be so skinny again!  Well, hopefully I'll be upping my weekly mileage pretty soon to get ready for a spring half, which should help.  And I plan to keep eating healthy at least until Thanksgiving arrives.

Speaking of which, I'm pretty hungry now...Hungry enough to eat a deep-fried Snickers bar, which I've never done before...maybe this year I'll make it to the State Fair?

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Lentil soup

Can't believe it's been almost two weeks since my last blog post.  Not because I haven't been cooking, but because most of it has been replays of old standbys like Zucchini moussaka and fried rice made with frozen stir-fry veggies.  Life's getting hectic again, but I finally made time to restore health and sanity with a simple homemade vegetable soup.  (As for the continuation of the exotic veggies...the Chinese okra sat in the fridge too long and I couldn't use it, and I made the bitter melon with about the same spice mix as the bottlegourd.  Whoa, dude - bitter melon's bitter.  Wish I'd done a Chinese stir-fry instead; soy sauce probably would have taken the edge off better than the Indian spices did.)

So, after stopping into Publix on Monday and picking up a few things, I decided to dispense with some of the lentils that have sat in the cupboard unopened for months.  This lentil soup is one of the first things I learned to make during my junior year in Geneva, when I lived in the university apartments and had a monthly allowance for groceries.  It's also the first thing I ever made using broth, and one of my vegetarian classmates declared on a trip to the store that if you need broth, THIS (holding a box of Knorr vegetable bouillon cubes) is what you buy.  Eventually I found chicken, fish and ham broth, but I still like the veggie broth from time to time. 

2 tbsp olive oil
3 carrots, halved lengthwise and thinly sliced
1 large yellow onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
8 oz. mushrooms, sliced
6 cups vegetable broth
1 cup dry white wine
10 oz. dry green lentils
3 sprigs fresh rosemary
2 tsp Cavender's Greek seasoning
1/4 cup chopped fresh parsley

Heat the olive oil over medium heat in an 8-quart pot.  Add the carrots and saute covered until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add the chopped onion and garlic and saute covered until softened, another 3 minutes.  Add the mushrooms, stir and saute covered until softened, another 3 to 5 minutes.  Add the broth and wine and bring to a boil.  Add lentils and rosemary and reduce heat to one notch below medium.  Cook until lentils are tender, about 30 minutes.  During the last few minutes of cooking, add the Greek seasoning and parsley. 

I'll go ahead and admit that I had been going more for a rustic French result, but now I'm thinking that would have worked out better just with chicken broth, rosemary, salt and pepper.  The Greek seasoning was basically a "save" because the soup seemed to be missing something before I added it.  At least now I understand why this recipe has been hit-or-miss in the past.  Plus I've got leftovers for the next two days' lunch and a bunch more carrots left to use in some of the many fall recipes I've been bookmarking!  Check back soon to see what's next...

Thursday, October 7, 2010

Steve's pistachio asparagus pesto

Wednesday's surprise dinner.  All I could think about from 3:00 on was how hungry I was, and after hoping all the way home that I'd have the patience to make something and not just plop down on the sofa with some cashews and beer, I walked in the door and discovered that Steve had just finished making this!  What a treat!

(Loosely based on this recipe.)
1 lb asparagus
3/4 cup pistachio nuts
1 tbsp garlic
3/4 cup shredded Parmesan cheese
4 tbsp olive oil
1 tsp lemon juice
10 oz whole wheat rotini pasta

1. Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Add asparagus and cook for 4 minutes submerged. Remove from the water and shock in a bowl of ice water. Drain and then place on a cutting board.
Slice off the asparagus tips at about 3/4 inch and set aside. Toss the bottom 1/5 of the stalks.  Finely chop the rest.
2. Add the garlic to a food processor along with 4 tablespoons of the pistachios, olive oil, lemon juice and a pinch of salt. Blend until the pistachios are crushed and the asparagus is coarsely chopped.
3. Add the pasta to a pot of boiling water. Cook for 10-12 Min.. Drain and cool.
4. Add the pesto and stir well. 
5. Chop up the remaining pistachios add with the remaining chopped asparagus
6. Add the grated Parmesan and mix lightly.
Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve hot or cold.

I had mine hot last night and again for lunch today, and it was delish!  Steve had his as a pasta salad today and added chopped tomato and a dash of cayenne pepper.  Think I'll do the same tomorrow!
Steve hardly ever cooks unless I'm out of town - not because he can't or doesn't want to, but because I usually beat him to the kitchen in the early evening.  And maybe because, I don't know, I'm a little territorial in the kitchen?  He's always asking if he can help with anything, and I always tell him no unless my hands are full and something needs to be stirred.  But he picked a great night for a nice surprise and a nice dinner.  As far as I'm concerned, I got a two-for!

Wednesday, October 6, 2010

Get Him to The Greek

Sunday's dinner.  We had two heads of broccoli and one eggplant ready to be rotated out of my veggie stock, so I figured I'd also use up the last of our frozen whiting filets on a Greek-style dinner (always an easy choice).  All of the recipes are in The Food of Greece by Vilma Liacouras Chantiles.

Whipped eggplant:
1 largish eggplant (about 1 pound)
1 tbsp Earth Balance
1/4 cup warmed milk (optional)
pinch of nutmeg
salt and pepper to taste

Cut eggplant in half lengthwise and bake in oven at 350 degrees for 45 minutes.  Scoop pulp from skins into a bowl, mash with a fork (or puree in a blender; remove any pieces that don't want to mash) and stir in remaining ingredients.

Fish baked in paper:
4 whiting filets, thawed
1/2 cup chopped fresh parsley
2 tbsp lemon juice
6 bay leaves
1 tbsp capers
salt and pepper to taste

Combine all ingredients and marinate in the fridge while the eggplant's baking.  Raise heat to 375 degrees.  Place two filets on parchment paper and wrap so that outer folds are down (or tie with kitchen string).  Repeat with remaining two filets.  Place both packages on a shallow baking pan and bake for 15 minutes.  Discard bay leaves when serving.

Lemon-pepper broccoli:
2 heads broccoli, stems removed
2 tbsp chopped fresh parsley
1 tbsp olive oil
1 tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste
Place broccoli flowerets in a microwave-safe bowl, cover with a paper towel and microwave on high for two minutes.  Stir in remaining ingredients and serve.

This was another of those that sounds like a lot but was easy to get done in the time it took to bake and then mash the eggplant, about 50 minutes total.  And since Steve had picked up the Get Him to The Greek DVD at Walmart on Friday, we had to watch it Sunday night.  It was better than I expected, but I would not recommend it to the Bambi or Eat Pray Love crowds.

Coming soon...more adventures in new veggies!

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Dudhi chick pea masala

Adventures in new veggies part one: The dudhi. 

I'm taking an online nutrition class right now, and one of our assignments (for bonus points at the end of the semester) was to find a vegetable we'd never eaten before and share the experience, and/or recipe as appropriate, with the class.  Well, I didn't think I'd have much luck at a regular grocery store - sometimes they have jicama, sometimes not - so after work on Friday I stopped by Royal India Bazaar (formerly J.M. Emporium, next to the Big Lots on Two Notch Rd. in Columbia) to check out their modest produce section.  It turns out that they have several items there that I'd never heard of, and the three that I ended up buying are called dudhi (pictured above), Chinese okra and bitter melon.  In the near future, I'll post on new veggie adventures 2 and 3 as well.

But back to the dudhi: unfortunate name, good squash.  According to my quick Google search, "dudhi" translates to "bottlegourd" in English.  It's about the size and shape of an eggplant, and the texture of the raw vegetable is about the same.  Unlike with eggplant, you do want to peel the skin before cooking.  Some people recommend removing the seeds, others say they're fine.  I went with a recipe that called for removing the seeds but didn't do a very thorough job.  A few seeds made it into the final product, and they didn't hurt anything.  I borrowed heavily from this recipe but made several changes: I added about two teaspoons of urad dal with the aromatics at the beginning, skipped the potato and onion (didn't have any), only used two cups of water and added a can of chick peas (drained) at the very end.  And since I don't have chappatis in my freezer, I served it over rice."Salt to taste" ended up being about 2 teaspoons.

The end result (pictured here) is what we had for lunch today.  The wedge-shaped things on the plate are the stewed bottlegourd.

This definitely would have needed 3-4 cups of water had I used the potatoes, even if they were cooked ahead of time.  Without any extra starch to thicken it up, this maybe would have been all right with only one cup of water, simmered with the lid on for about 10 minutes and then cooked uncovered on a higher heat setting until it was thick enough to eat with a fork.  With two cups of water, I had to cook it for about 30 minutes on medium heat and then on medium-high heat to thicken it up.

Since I did use the sambhar powder, it came out spicier than it would have with the garam masala.  This, I suspect, is the reason that Steve suggested having some sour cream or plain yogurt on hand as a topping the next time.  Anyone who has difficulty digesting spicy foods might consider adding a dollop of plain yogurt on top or even stirring in half a cup of yogurt right before serving.  (Sour cream's too pedestrian for a dish like this.)

So this was my experience with my first new veggie since...okra, I guess, but that was about 15 years ago.  If you live near an Indian grocery store and want to try something different, the dudhi/bottlegourd runs about 99 cents a pound.  Some things, like shallots, are also cheaper than at a supermarket.  Plus the people are very nice, love new customers and will answer any and all questions you have about whatever catches your eye!

Happy Sunday, and enjoy this beautiful weather while it lasts!

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Chicken tetrazzini with tarragon and white wine

I meant to make this last week, when Steve brought home a rotisserie chicken from the Pig, but I didn't get to it before we went camping for the weekend and the chicken's unofficial "eat by" date came and went.  So, he bought another one tonight and I went to work.  It's this recipe (Martha Stewart has a better one than Giada De Laurentiis - go figure) with a few tweaks.  For one, I added half a chopped onion just because I had it in the fridge.  I also only made half the recipe using only the dark meat from the rotisserie chicken, and instead of the proportions of wine, broth and milk indicated here, I used one cup each of milk and white wine, in that order.  It just seemed like more trouble than it was worth to heat one cup of water for broth while I was already multi-tasking the rest.  While the sauce was reducing down, I added about two teaspoons of dried tarragon because I didn't feel like going out to the backyard to feed mosquitoes snip fresh thyme.  So, it's more Franco-Italian than Italian.

I liked it well enough and Steve liked it well enough, but I think next time I'll use more salt.  (For that I didn't check the recipe; I think I just went with about half a teaspoon, figuring the Parmesan would add some as well.)  I really like how tarragon adds an aromatic quality to dishes in which you don't normally expect that, but between that, the wine (and no broth) and the peas, I couldn't help thinking that more salt would have balanced the flavors. 

Whatever I make will most likely involve broccoli, tomatoes and/or zucchini, since they're the next things I need to rotate out of the fridge.  Until then...

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Big Salad

I used to make this salad all the time, several years back, and settled on this name during a Seinfeld kick.  I never actually saw Elaine eat the "big salad" she liked to order at the diner, but I figured that if it's big, then it must have a lot of stuff on it.  Some of the variations on this salad had grated Parmesan and/or croutons instead of the chick peas, but this version has long been my favorite.  And with all the canned ingredients, half the work is already done!  Here's the per-person recipe I made for Steve and myself the other night (and for myself again last night):

3 oz. fresh spinach leaves, washed and dried
2-3 tbsp Ken's Northern Italian dressing
3 oz. canned corn
2 oz. sliced black olives
1 Roma tomato, diced
4 oz. chick peas
pinch of salt
4-5 turns of fresh ground pepper

Place the spinach leaves on a plate and drizzle with the dressing.  Scatter the corn over the spinach and follow it with the olives, then the tomato, then the chick peas.  Finish with the salt and pepper.

Steve wanted feta cheese on his, so he added, I want to say, about 2 tablespoons.  I didn't, but I might one day.  Maybe if I make Greek dressing instead of using the Italian?

And last night I was lazy and didn't bother chopping the tomato - just rinsed and dried the spinach and then followed with the rest.  This is a very easy recipe to make on a hot day when you want something healthy but not enough to hover over a hot stove.  Since the 10-day forecast says we'll be having more days like this, I'll probably be making this again in the near future...

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Mushroom Celery Risotto

This isn't the first time I've cooked since my last post, but the efforts in between were a replay of my ratatouille and a batch of jambalaya that I forgot to photograph before storing the leftovers in the freezer.   It was time to cook again when I realized the leftovers were all gone.

I decided on this because I had some celery in the fridge that I was tired of looking at.  It's a lot like my spinach risotto except for the celery and mushrooms.  The recipe was as follows:

2 tbsp olive oil
5-6 celery stalks with leaves, chopped
3 cloves garlic
8 oz. frozen sliced mushrooms, thawed (undrained)
1 cup arborio rice
3 cups chicken broth
1/2 tsp nutmeg
1-2 tsp fresh ground pepper
1 cup freshly grated Parmesan

Heat the olive oil in a 2 qt saucepan over medium heat.  Add the celery and garlic and cook until the celery is tender, about 8-10 minutes.  Add thawed mushrooms with liquid and stir well.  Add rice to the vegetable mixture and stir; cook for 2 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring chicken broth to a boil.  After completing the above steps, begin adding the broth, one cup at a time, to the vegetable and rice mixture.  With each cup, stir well and add the next cup once all the liquid has been absorbed by the rice.  Continue until rice has absorbed all the broth.  Add nutmeg and pepper and stir.  Grate the Parmesan over the risotto and stir well to melt.

This dinner was right on time.  Most of my "dinners" this week have been snacks in front of the TV, and I was ready to eat a real meal.  Steve seemed happy about it too, and I'm especially happy to have leftovers for tomorrow's lunch.  If you have any celery and no idea what to do with it, give this a try!

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Hoppin' John

A simple Labor Day repast with ample leftovers to keep me from having to cook again until Thursday or Friday.  Red peppers are courtesy of our new friend Steve W., who brought them to our weekend camping destination from his home in Goose Creek.

Hoppin' John: it's not just for New Year's anymore!

2 cups chicken broth
1 lb frozen black-eyed peas, thawed
2 tbsp canola oil
12 oz frozen okra, thawed
1 green bell pepper, diced
2 red bell peppers, diced
1/2 large yellow onion, chopped
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tsp ground whole oregano
salt and cayenne pepper to taste
2 tsp chipotle Tabasco sauce
2 cups basmati rice

Bring chicken broth to a boil, add thawed black-eyed peas and simmer over medium heat until tender, about 15-20 minutes.

Meanwhile, bring 3 cups of water to a boil, add rice, reduce heat to medium-low, stir well, cover with a tight-fitting lid and cook for 15 minutes.

Once these have been cooking for a few minutes, heat canola oil in a wide, shallow saucepan over medium heat.  Add okra, stir well and cook until softened, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic, oregano, salt, cayenne, bell peppers and onion, stir and cook until all vegetables have softened, about 5 more minutes.  Add chipotle sauce and black-eyed peas with any remaining broth to the sauce pan and cook until broth has reduced by half, about 5 more minutes.

Once everything is cooked, make a shallow bed of rice on each plate, top with black-eyed pea mixture and serve.

So as you can see, I know quite a few ways to make beans and rice.  The veggies and seasonings make all the difference, especially with this recipe.  The chipotle hot sauce gives it a nice Liquid Smoke flavor that I miss when I don't have any of this sauce on hand.

When I was plating this up, Steve put spoons on the table and was surprised to discover that I wasn't serving this up in a bowl - because you're supposed to??...Oh, well.  Mine's the only hoppin' john with okra that I've ever eaten, so I guess all bets are off.  Still, the leftovers got me through a long afternoon, and I'm guessing that they'll do the same again tomorrow.

Marinated chicken and zucchini

Don't have a fancy name for this recipe because it happened off-the-cuff.  While meal planning on Friday night for our weekend camping trip, I didn't have any ideas for the chicken, so Steve suggested white wine, black olives and red bell pepper.  So I made that using a red pepper from the backyard, and the side was a marinated zucchini dish that I've made a couple of times before.  Well, once again at the campsite, we ended up leaving our stuff in the cooler and partaking of a huge Labor Day weekend feast of barbeque chicken, green beans and peach cobbler.  And I'm not one to quote Rachael Ray, but...yum-o.

So, when we got home around noon on Sunday, Steve threw the foil-wrapped chicken and zucchini on the grill, and they did their thing while we trimmed back the wisteria and watched birds.  Up to this point, the preparation was as follows:

3 boneless skinless chicken breasts, not split (about 1.5 lbs)
1/2 can black olives, split in half
1 small red bell pepper, julienned
salt and pepper
1/4 cup dry white wine

Prick holes in the chicken breasts with fork or a sharp knife.  Place in plastic storage container, add remaining ingredients and turn chicken pieces to make sure they come in contact with all the seasonings and vegetables. Cover and refrigerate overnight.

1.5 medium-large zucchini, cut in half lengthwise and thinly sliced
salt and pepper
2 tsp dried Italian herb mix
2-3 tbsp red wine vinegar
2-3 tbsp olive oil

Combine all ingredients in plastic storage container.  Cover and refrigerate overnight. when we got home, two foil-wrapped packages went on the propane grill for...oh, I don't know, maybe 30 minutes?  I'll have to ask Steve when he's done mowing the lawn.  But both turned out surprisingly well.  I really didn't know what to expect with the chicken, since I almost never cook it in such a simple marinade where wine's involved.  But it was very flavorful and perfectly juicy - and I almost never find that to be true of a cooked chicken breast, which is why I prefer the dark meat.  The zucchini I thought might have all the liquid pulled out by the salt and vinegar, but it turned out just fine as well.  And I was very happy to see that Steve took care of the leftover chicken breast for lunch today, so that's all for that recipe until the next time!